Serial killer terrorizes Connecticut in veteran author McCullough’s debut thriller.
Set in 1965–66 in Holloman (i.e., New Haven), where racial tensions are beginning to roil, the action ignites from the chance discovery of a dismembered, racially mixed female corpse in a refrigerator used for storing incinerator-bound dead animals. The defunct critters were subjects of neurological studies conducted at the Hughlings Jackson Center, nicknamed the Hug. Lieutenant Carmine Delmonico quarantines the Hug and interrogates its staff, “the Huggers,” including the statuesque jolie-laide Desdemona Dupre. Meanwhile, Wesley le Clerc, a Hugger nephew, exploits the gruesome find to help his mentor, Mohammed el Nesr, foment racial unrest. The investigation drags on in real-time tedium because Ivy League politics must be needlessly explicated and the POVs of far too many potential culprits (not a few conveniently equipped with private lairs) superficially mined. Since ’63, Carmine learns, several teenaged girls with café-au-lait complexions and sheltered upbringings have disappeared. These bodies presumably went up in smoke in the animal incinerator. As bimonthly abductions occur, all Connecticut is on high alert against the so-called Monster, dubbed the Ghost by cops. A 16-year-old is taken from a supposedly locked-down high school and two other girls vanish, now in monthly succession, despite massive surveillance of all Hugger homes and haunts. The killer has gone against type with a darker-skinned black and a white Lebanese victim, each found headless, and dressed in child’s beaded frocks, which Carmine finds were purchased with 1933-issue $100 bills. Forensic examinations reveal that all the victims were sadistically raped, but trace evidence is non-existent in these pre-DNA-testing days. Tipped off to some sinister family skeletons, Carmine identifies the common link all the victims share. After a successful police sting, Wesley le Clerc pulls a Jack Ruby on the prime suspect. Cheated of justice, Carmine settles down to married life with Desdemona, satisfied at least that he has banished the Ghost. Or has he?
McCullough (The Touch, 2003, etc.) has achieved a passably engrossing police procedural.